An introduction to Ecolabelling and How Canada is Implementing it

Environmental protection has become a critical issue globally. As a result, the sustainable utilization of resources has attracted researchers’ and practitioners’ attention. A series of policies and regulations are continuously being formulated globally to protect the environment and natural resources. These policies and regulations are used to develop several tools which organizations can use to manage and improve their environmental impacts. An example of such tools are eco-labels.

Eco-labeling is a tool that is used to assess the role of companies in creating sustainable products (Jin et al., 2018).  Eco labels are intended to help inform on, recognize, and reward sustainable practices. This tool could influence consumers’ choices when purchasing products by allowing them to quickly identify products that meet specific environmental performance criteria and which can be recognized as “environmentally friendly” (Jin et al., 2018).

Ecolabels can be applied to almost any product (goods and services). When an ecolabel is being developed, a set of criteria is designed which typically focuses on assessing the different stages of the relevant product, that is from its manufacture, to its distribution, and consumption, etc. These stages will vary from product to product and have different environmental impacts. The set of criteria is developed and revised transparently by a group of experts or stakeholders. Different ecolabels represent different sets of criteria, even for similar products. As a result , before choosing a product on the basis of ecolabels, it is essential to understand what ecolabels are and how to identify them correctly.

Eco labels can be owned or managed by government agencies, nonprofit environmental advocacy organizations, or private sector entities (Iraldo et al., 2020). However, many companies use “self” certified labels or adhere to private initiatives to exploit ecolabelling as a marketing tool (Iraldo et al., 2020). The increase in self-certified eco labels as well as the growing interest from consumers in this tool, has led many policy and governmental personnels to realize the potential of eco labels and the need to regulate the use of this tool in order to reduce the potential for “green-washing” (Iraldo et al., 2020).

Types of Ecolabels

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) identifies three broad types of voluntary Ecolabels (Adapted from Ecolabel).

Type 1: A voluntary, multiple-criteria based, third-party program that awards the company a license that gives them the authority to use environmental labels on their products, suggesting that there is an overall environmental preferability of a product (Environmental Claims, 2011). For example, a third-party program can be a governmental agency which awards the ecolabel of a European Flower. Receiving a European Flower ecolabel symbolizes environmental quality of products and services (The European Union’s Environmental Quality Mark, n.d). This ensures that they are following specific criteria set by the government in this case so that all their products and services are certified environmentally friendly.

Type 2: “informative environmental self-declaration claims” This label is created by the developer of the product, there is no criteria or third-party program that oversees the product development to guarantee that what they are selling is environmentally friendly (Environmental Claims, 2011).  It is something that they declare as environmentally conscious but have no set standards as to what is considered environmentally friendly.

Type 3: Voluntary programs that provide quantified product environmental data under predetermined categories and parameters set by a quality third party organization and life-cycle assessment done by the qualified third party. For example, this type of ecolabel is based on the entire life cycle of a product– everything that goes into making the product will be considered in its life cycle (Environmental Claims, 2011). Thus, a qualified third-party organization will analyze the life cycle of the product and if it is recognized as environmentally friendly and meets the parameters set by the organization it will receive the ecolabel certification (Environmental Claims, 2011).

A Canadian Example of Ecolabelling

“Canada is one of the world’s most important wheat suppliers. It ranked fourth in wheat exports in 2020-21 at 26.4 million tones” (Good in Every Grain, 2018). Numerous types of wheat are grown in Canada, such as Hard Red Winter Wheat or Hard Red Spring Wheat and Soft Red Winter Wheat or Hard Red Spring Wheat, etc. (Washington State University, n.d.). The difference between spring wheat and winter wheat is when they are planted.  Spring Wheat is seeded in the spring and summer months and harvested in the fall (Good in Every Grain, 2018). Winter wheat is seeded in the fall and winter and harvested in the spring and summer months. Canadian wheat is primarily grown in Ontario and the Prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) (Donley, 2021).

Within the Prairies resides a bird called the Northern Pintail (Ducks Unlimited Canada, 2021). In the 1970s, Ducks Unlimited – a Canadian non-for-profit organization that works to conserve and protect ducks – noticed a decline in the Northern Pintail species due to habitat loss. After research on how to restore and provide the Northern Pintail a habitat, it was discovered that the duck liked to nest and inhabit winter wheat.

Based on this discovery, a new ecolabelling program launched in 2021 surrounding winter wheat and the northern pintail duck. Ducks Unlimited Canada, Cereals Canada, and Wheat Winter growers in the Prairies, partnered for the Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Ecolabel Program (Ducks Unlimited Canada, 2021). This is the first ecolabel used to demonstrate that winter wheat is bird friendly and supports crops, meaning that the wheat is planted and harvested in the Prairies, leaving a spot for ducks to migrate and build a nest (Ducks Unlimited Canada, 2021). By providing a place for nesting, this farming practice contributes towards enhancing the population of Northern Pintail.  The new ecolabelling also benefits farmers by increasing the demand of winter wheat which provides on land benefits by increasing soil health and diversifying the crop selection (Zammit, 2021).

The ecolabel program works with major stakeholders to promote the benefits of winter wheat to farms and consumers through the program. This program supports the consumer in making an informed decision and will support responsible farming practices and wildlife habitats (Ducks Unlimited Canada, 2021). So, when a consumer takes a trip to the grocery store to purchase something made with winter wheat, they will see the ecolabel, and they would know that it is grown sustainability and it is a habitat-friendly option.

How can you keep an eye out for eco labeling?

  1. Look for products that are properly eco-labelled! This may mean pulling out your smart-phone and researching a label to ensure it adheres to the eco-labelling criteria they are promoting to follow
  2. Avoid companies that promote eco- labeling but use it as a form of “greenwashing” (making a false statement about adhering to sustainable practices). Here is a list of a few examples of reliable ecolabels
  3. Lastly, learn more about ecolabelling so that you can shop responsibly!

References

Dark Northern Spring Wheat | Wheat & Small Grains | Washington State University. (n.d.). Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://smallgrains.wsu.edu/dark-northern-spring/

Donley, A. (2021, October 11). Canada’s wheat output forecast as smallest in 14 years | World Grain. https://www.world-grain.com/articles/16090-canadas-wheat-output-forecast-as-smallest-in-14-years

Ducks love to nest in winter wheat — Ducks Unlimited Canada. (2021, November 3). https://www.ducks.ca/stories/grasslands/duck-nests-in-winter-wheat/

Environmental Claims Findings and Conclusions of the OECD Committee on Consumer Policy Environmental Claims. (2011).

Introduction to Ecolabels and Standards for Greener Products | US EPA. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/greenerproducts/introduction-ecolabels-and-standards-greener-products#EPS

Iraldo, F., Griesshammer, R., & Kahlenborn, W. (2020). The future of ecolabels. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 2020 25:5, 25(5), 833–839. https://doi.org/10.1007/S11367-020-01741-9

Jin, J., Dou, X., Meng, L., & Yu, H. (2018). Environmental-friendly eco-labeling matters: Evidences from an ERPs study. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 417. https://doi.org/10.3389/FNHUM.2018.00417/BIBTEX

Robb, J. (2021, November 7). Ecolabel program highlights benefits of winter wheat across Canada | Globalnews.ca. https://globalnews.ca/news/8356616/ecolabel-winter-wheat-canada/

The EU Flower The Europen Union’s Environmental Quality Mark. (n.d.).

What is Ecolabelling? | Global Ecolabelling Network. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://globalecolabelling.net/what-is-eco-labelling/

What type of wheat is grown in Ontario? – Good in Every Grain. (2018, July 19). https://goodineverygrain.ca/2018/07/19/what-type-of-wheat-is-grown-in-ontario/

Zammit, D. (2021, November 4). Habitat-friendly winter wheat ecolabel program launched this week – SwiftCurrentOnline.com – Local news, Weather, Sports, Free Classifieds and Job Listings. https://www.swiftcurrentonline.com/articles/habitat-friendly-winter-wheat-ecolabel-program-launched-this-week

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